National News

94-year-old World War II POW recalls his survival

Posted May 29, 2018 11:09 a.m. EDT

— 94-year-old Wilbert "Vince" Rolves lives in Carlyle, Illinois. He was a prisoner of war (POW) during World War II and was held captive for 18 months.

He spent the morning of Memorial Day 2018 remembering his fellow soldiers and recalling his own survival.

"A lot of times I never thought I'd get to see U.S. soil again," Rolves remembered.

The Albers, Illinois native said he got mail drafting him to serve in the war. He spent 13 weeks at basic training and was soon sent overseas. He first was sent to Africa and then to Italy where he was on the front lines of combat.

He remembered sleeping wherever they could find.

"We just laid a blanket down and used the other end of it to cover up with, one eye open and hand on the trigger," said Rolves.

One December battle, his life would forever change. He was captured by opposing forces after he was shot in the foot by enemy fire.

"I remember like it happened yesterday," said Rolves.

Rolves lost 83 pounds while being held captive and forced to do labor.

"We wound up eating potato soup, maggot soup we called it," he said.

Rolves said on a 45-day march the POWs survived on three potatoes a day and a slice of 'black bread' made from sawdust. "They called it 'tree flour' and they had some crushed glass in it," he recalled.

While he was at the prison camp, the POWs worked on the farm. He cared for dozens of cows, milking them daily.

When the Russians arrived to tell them the war was over, Rolves and the others still had to travel 25 miles by wagon and then foot once their ox collapsed from exhaustion to reach American Troops.

"Sometimes I wonder, how did [I] ever make it?" said Rolves as he looked at his own enlistment picture.

Rolves returned to Illinois after the war and eventually settled down in Carlyle. He married his late-wife Loretta.

At 94-years-old, he still likes to cut his own grass and stay busy around his home.

"I feel good about it," he said. "I plan on making it to 100."